Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"Folk" Music, "Intellectual Property," and Bob Dylan

I'm a huge fan of Bob Dylan, and don't begrudge him one red cent of his wealth. Net worth: Probably around $800 million after the recent sale of his songwriting catalog for, allegedly, north of $300 million.

That sale did, however, start me thinking for the nth time about the relationship between "folk music" and the statist anti-concept of "intellectual property."

Trying to define "folk music" is complicated (here's the Wikipedia article on the subject), and virtually anything is contestable, but I think there's a strong case against copyright in folk music even if one accepts the idea of copyright at all. Folk is supposedly "the people's music," music that spreads and mutates through oral tradition, with no "owner" as such.

Woody Guthrie, Dylan's early idol/model/mentor, expressed a clear view on the subject (a view his publisher doesn't share):

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

Dylan's first album consisted mostly of his own arrangements of traditional folk songs, and his breakout (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)  freely co-opts tunes, themes, and lyrics from older folk songs ("Girl from the North Country" is clearly based on "Scarborough Fair" and "Bob Dylan's Dream" on "Lady Franklin's Lament;" "Talkin' World War III Blues" is a gloss on Guthrie's "talkin' blues" style; "Corrina Corrina" is a mashup of a 1928 Mississippi Sheiks tune with some Robert Johnson lyrics; "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" is an 1890s folk ditty; and "I Shall Be Free" is a re-write of a Lead Belly / Guthrie recording).

For several years -- until he went electric and scandalized the Newport Folk Festival -- Dylan wasn't just a folkie, he was the top dog folkie. He didn't make folk music big, but he made it much, much bigger ... and it made him, period.

Like I said, I'm happy that Dylan is coming up on billionaire status (and I hope he tours through my neck of the woods at least once more so I can pay to see him live a second time).

But, having made his fat stacks of cash, I wish he'd taken a cue from Guthrie and put at least some of his stuff (the "folk" stuff, say everything before Bringin' It All Back Home) in the public domain when he got ready dispose of his "intellectual property" catalog.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Zoom vs. Live Meetings: The Big Up Side

Gainesville, Florida mayor Lauren Poe tweets (above a retweet from Andrew Yang on "9 Reasons Zoom is Not Our Friend"):

I feel his pain. Yes, Zoom is a giant pain in the ass for 1) large bodies 2) making lots of decisions.

Last year, Zoom played a large role for me in two related activities.

One was serving on the Libertarian Party's platform committee, with more than 20 members, working through numerous proposals. We did that through a combination of Zoom meetings and email discussion/balloting.

The other was the Libertarian Party's national convention, which was an absolute technological nightmare despite several people doing heroic work to make it functional, and not just because of the mutiny against the party conducted by a delegate minority at the physical meeting portion of the convention.

But there's one huge up side to Zoom (and similar "online meeting" products), and that's the cost savings involved for groups made up of people scattered over wide geographic areas.

If the platform committee had had a physical meeting, 20-odd people would have been expected to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel and lodging, and to spend at least two or three days away from their homes and their "real" jobs, in order to meet for 8-16 hours.

For the national convention, expand those costs to more than a thousand delegates (of which several hundred invested that time and those expenses because they chose to, not because it was required).

Does Zoom suck? For large meetings with complex agendas, yes.

But there's a cost-benefit calculation to be made.

In the case of the platform committee, several members offered to make triple or even quadruple digit contributions to the party if we decided to not meet physically (I was one of them), and followed through on those pledges.

The party made money instead of spending money (on meeting room rental, etc.).

The committee got its work done for, almost certainly, tens of thousands of dollars less in personal expenses incurred by its members.

Yes, the meetings were more difficult and less pleasant on Zoom than in person. But I think they were also worth it.

Hopefully Zoom and other "online meeting" software will continue to improve in functionality, and hopefully thousands of organizations and their members will save millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses that can be used on things other than flying back and forth across the US to drink bad coffee and sleep in strange beds.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Look What I Got ...


Picked up the Epiphone Hummingbird a couple of hours ago.

I was planning to give up a little Bitcoin to buy it when the price went over $60k, but instead I literally bled for it -- yesterday, I got my first check for participating in the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial, and spent much of it on this.

Thanks to Maalik Simbi Makaya (bassist for The Good Voodoo, who also works at Guitar Center). He very correctly told me this was the guitar I should get when my wandering eye and tight fist started nudging me toward a cheap Telecaster clone. I'll get one of those eventually, but this is the guitar I've always wanted, pretty much (it came to less than $450; the actual Gibson would have been cooler, but would also have set me back an additional $3,000 or more, and is, IMO, not $3,000 more valuable).

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